Wednesday, February 28, 2007

On Praise

A recent article in New York Magazine How Not to Talk to Your Kids by Po Bronson looked at several studies that found common forms of praise manipulative, destructive and damaging to kids. I'm familiar with the concept, every year the co-op preschool parent educators hand out a copy of Alfie Kohn's 5 Reasons to Stop Saying "Good Job" article. I've learned to say, "You did it!" instead of "Good Job!" or "Tell me about your painting" instead of "What a beautiful painting. Nice work." Ask specific questions and give detailed feedback "I see you used a lot of red and orange for the volcano." Encouraging kids to have an internal sense of accomplishment, cultivating self-efficacy, and self-motivation is what really matters. It's hard to do though and I still find myself giving lazy praise where it isn't needed.

Kohn argues that punishments (including time-outs) and rewards (including positive reinforcement) may sometimes produce temporary compliance, but they do nothing to help kids grow into responsible, caring, ethical, happy people.

On Bronson's social studies blog they posted 14 guidelines for giving constructive, honest praise:

Children younger than age seven take praise at face value. After that, children become increasingly adept at scrutinizing praise for its veracity. By high school, teens have become so used to hearing insincere praise, that they believe that those who are praised are actually lacking in ability, while those who are criticized are the real talents in a classroom.

Instead of being a genuine compliment, praise is frequently a tool of manipulation – a way of controlling someone. That's particularly true for children. We often use it to control a child's performance or the others who have yet to deserve our praise.


1. Don't Offer Global Statements
2. Be Sincere
3. Don't Use Empty Praise
4. Scale Back the Amount of Praise
5. Be Specific
6. Praise the Process
7. Don't Connect Praise with Promises of Future Success
8. Don't Confuse Praise with Encouragement
9. Timing is Everything
10. Avoid Praising in Public
11. Don't Praise To Avoid Giving Criticism or Addressing Failure
12. Don't Praise Undeserved Success
13. Know Your Praise Audience
14. Avoid Praise-Inflation

*The Praise Uber-Tip: Be Honest* If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to let you know that the latest issue of Greater Good magazine (Fall 2007) is out! You can read some articles from the issue at

This issue of Greater Good gets past overheated rhetoric about the decline of the family and delves into new research findings. Contributors bring these research findings to life in honest, revealing portraits of typically atypical 21st century families, and they make clear how families can still thrive during this period of transition. As historian Stephanie Coontz makes clear in the issue's lead essay, it's not the changes themselves but how families respond to them that will determine how well they fare in the 21st century.
Her article can be found at:

Jeremy Lee